“We felt a little out sync early on. We weren’t executing as well as we would have liked, but once we were able to start getting into the second level of their defense, we were able to do what we were wanting to do,” expressed Coach Ron Crawford after his fifth-ranked Blue Raiders advanced with a 42-8 victory over District 6-AAA runner-up White County Friday evening in Sparta.
“We’re pleased with the win, but I didn’t feel like we executed as well as we’re capable of doing,” he assessed. Cleveland had a Week 10 bye before making the 100-mile trip to play in temperatures that had the mercury dipping into the 30s.
With their first playoff victory since 2002, the Blue Raiders (8-3) advance to the Round of 16 where they will face a very familiar former District 5-AAA foe — Rhea County.
Claiming the District 6-AAA championship in their first season after moving west, the sixth-ranked Eagles are 10-1 after posting a 35-24 victory over Lenoir City Friday evening.
“At least it won’t be as far a trip as this week,” remarked Coach Crawford. “I know they used to be in our district, but this is the 2013 version with a new head coach and new offensive and defensive schemes.”
Rhea County came into Benny Monroe Stadium as a 1-8 team last fall and upset the Raiders, preventing them from making the postseason field. “While some people will used last year as motivation, and that’s fine, but we realize this is the 2013 Raiders against the 2013 Eagles. We are both very different teams.”
A pair of other District 5-AAA teams also advanced in Class 5A Quadrant 2 opening round action Friday, with rivals Ooltewah and East Hamilton setting up a rematch of their Week 5 battle, which the Owls took by a 28-26 margin.
Ooltewah (9-2), ranked seventh in the final Class 5A Associated Press poll, blasted Stone Memorial (6-5) 47-7 Friday, while a few miles away the eighth-ranked Hurricanes (9-2) knocked off perennial powerhouse No. 10 Oak Ridge (7-4) by a 25-10 margin.
Putting up more points than White County’s five previous opponents combined, Cleveland got on the scoreboard first Friday evening at Dee Harris Field.
Matching their best record (8-3) in 35 years, the Warriors opened their first-ever home playoff game with a drive to the Raider 28, but Cleveland’s defense stalled the drive there with the first of four fourth down “stuffs” on the evening.
Taking over for their first possessions, the Raider offense marched 62 yards to paydirt with senior signal caller Austin Herink capping the nine-play drive with a 10-yard run, stretching across the goal line while being tackled. Sophomore Oscar Galvan, who was a perfect 4-for-4 on the night, came on to boot the extra point with 3:39 left in the opening quarter.
Undaunted, the Warriors answered with a nine-play scoring drive of their own with senior tailback Blake Lynn “carrying the mail” for the final four yards on the second play of the second frame. Using an off-balance lineup, senior Skylar Delaney side stepped a would-be tackler on the two-point conversion run for an 8-7 lead for the hosts.
White County’s lead lasted through a pair of possessions, but Cleveland was able to tack on a couple of scores in the final 6:06 of the opening half.
Herink hit classmate Tyler Davis on a 31-yard pass play for the first score, capping a six-play, 72-yard march.
The second came when Herink finished off a 91-yard, previously all passing drive with a one-yard plunge with 43 ticks remaining on the clock. Herink and Davis connected on a 54-yard completion on the play just before the QB punched it across the goal line. The pair did hook up for the two-point conversion.
After building a 21-8 halftime advantage, the Blue Raiders added three more second half touchdowns — a 92-yard TD toss to Davis, a 30-yard scoring pass to senior speedster DJ Jones and a 71-yard run by junior tailback TJ Parker — the last two of which were step up by Warrior turnovers.
After Davis’ long scoring catch-and-run, Raider senior defensive lineman Kimsey Bell pounced on a Warrior fumble two plays after the ensuing kickoff. Herink then got the ball to Jones on the very next play and broke some tackles and dove into the end zone 59 seconds after Davis had been there.
In the final quarter, Parker thwarted a White County rive into the Red Zone with an interception at the 1 yard line and returned it to the 30. Two plays later he got a “spring block” from Jones and sprinted down the left sideline for his 71-yard scoring jaunt.
The potent Cleveland offense, which has averaged better than 35 points per game this season, gained 447 yards in the contest, including 312 through the air. Herink connected on 14-of-18 passes for 297 yards, with Davis pulling in four of them for 180 yards and Jones snagging a half dozen for 69 yards.
Parker carried the load on the ground with 122 yards on just nine rushes.
“Our offensive line did a great job of protecting Austin (Herink) and by opening holes for TJ [Parker],” praised Coach Crawford. “If we can continue to improve our running game, then hopefully we’ll create a dilemma for the defenses we’re facing.”
“We also did a great job of taking care of the ball,” he added. “After having 20 turnovers during the [regular] season, we didn’t have any [Friday]. That’s a big plus.”
Despite being stopped four times on fourth-down plays deep in Raider territory, White County countered with 321 total offensive yards.
Senior QB Jake Young completed 14-of-24 passes for 140 yards. Warrior tailback Blake Lynn capped his high school career with 136 yards on 29 carries, plus he caught four passes for another 40 yards.
Cleveland 7 14 14 7 — 42
White County 0 8 0 0 — 8
C — Austin Herink 10-yd run (Oscar Galvan kick), 3:39
WC — Blake Lynn 4-yd run (Skylar Delaney run), 11:42
C — Tyler Davis 31-yd pass from Herink (run failed), 6:06
C — Herink 1-yd run (Davis from Herink pass), :43
C — Davis 91-yd pass from Herink (Galvan kick), 3:44
C — DJ Jones 30-yd pass from Herink (Galvan kick), 2:45
C — TJ Parker 71-yd run (Galvan kick), 9:20
First downs 15 14
Rushes-yards 23-135 44-181
Passing yards 312 140
Total yards 447 321
Comp-Att-Int 15-19-0 14-27-1
Punts -Ave. 2-37.5 2-19.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties 6-55 5-45
Rushing: TJ Parker 9-122 TD, Austin Herink 2-11 2 TDs, Ben Wyrick 4-5, Raekwon Bunion 4-2, Jacob Gibson 3- -10 (C); Blake Lynn 29-136 TD, Skylar Delaney 3-27, Jake Young 2-10, River Borcuff 4-9, Perry Clayton 4-4, Caleb Cravens 1-2, Josh Rowan 1- -7 (WC).
Passing: Austin Herink 14-18-0 297 3 TDs, Jacob Gibson1-1-0 15 (C); Jake Young 13-23-0 140, Blake Lynn 0-2-1 0, Skylar Delaney 0-1-0 0 (WC).
Receiving: Tyler Davis 4-180 2 TDs, DJ Jones 6-69 TD, Parker Smith 3-30, Raekwon Bunion 1-18, Ben Wyrick 1-15 (C); Skylar Delaney 5-56, Blake Lynn 4-40, Tommy odom 2-17, Jacob Winton 1-16, Michael Harris 1-8, Perry Clayton 1-3 (WC).
Records: Cleveland 8-3; White County 8-3.